Thursday, November 29, 2007

A feminist issue...

When I knocked on the door at 7.15 that morning Anura was still asleep. Anura, aka the frog, is two, and his godless father was in prison. It was the first day any of us could visit Thomas,* and I wanted him to be able to see his godless son.

The visit didn't start until 8.30, but Rimutaka prison is half an hour's drive from Wellington and I was told to get there half an hour early. So Anura's mother woke him up, and I strapped a grumpy, sleepy baby into his carseat. We talked about the visit on our way up, me and Anura. "We're going to visit Thomas" I said; "Yeah" he said". "He's in prison" I said; "Yeah" he said. But mostly I just drove.

I'd heard that you could take property (which is corrections lingo for stuff) into the prison while you were visiting. I had my bag of baby stuff in one arm and my bag of prisoner stuff in the other as we went from the visitor's carpark to the gatehouse. We were a little late, and he was walking really slowly so I slung him on my hip, with my two bags. "Takahe" said Anura - although actually it was a Pukeko.

When we got to the gatehouse it was clear that I wouldn't be able to take anything in - everyone was putting everything they had into lockers. So I did too and we were the last to go through the metal detector. "One at a time" the guard said - so I sent the baby through first. Neither of us set off the metal detector - I'd worn my black pants rather than my jeans to make things easy. After searching my bag he let me take my nappies and a museli bar down to visiting. I wouldn't let Anura walk to visiting, but carried him instead - I wasn't going to cut into our hour.**

When we got there the guard made me go back and leave my bag in the entranceway. I could see everyone else hugging their prisoner, but I couldn't see Thomas. The guard told me that they would get him and I should sit down.

Visits at Rimutaka were in a prefab - bigger than the ones at school - but the same basic shape. In one corner was a small fenced in area - like it should have been for children to play in, but there were no toys.

Then Thomas was there in a bright orange Guantanamo bay jumpsuit and I was hugging him and he was OK. The next fifty minutes weren't how we'd normally talk, and not just because the guards would come over and tell him to put his feet on the floor. Although when Anura got bored (even a prison visit hour is a long time for a two year old) he came over and grabbed my face - just like he would have in any other conversation (although he's a better talker now so when I wasn't paying attention to him yesterday he just said "Stop Talking").

Prison visits are too short - they tell you it's over and you try and get one last hug, and say one last thing, and then another last hug, and then it really is over.

The prisoners were taken away and we were sent to the entrance way. They don't let you out of the visitors centre right away. While waiting in the I got a nappy from the bag they hadn't let me take in. Anura had needed changing for a while. I put my hand under his head as he lay down and changed his nappy just outside the door to the visitors centre - there was nowhere else.

Once they let us out we walked back to the gatehouse at two year old pace - he wouldn't be carried.

But in the end, my experience was as borrowed as the baby. When I was waiting to visit the following week,*** I noticed a woman who visited every day. Later she pointed me out to a friend - "She's with the terrorist" and glared at me. I don't know what her problem with me was, but I would think part of it is that I was so obviously there temporarily.

I saw people I knew when visiting, and I wasn't surprised to see them, although they were very surprised to see me. I don't belong to any of the groups whose existence is criminalised or for whom jail is a life hazard. I visited five times in four different prisons before I saw other pakeha visiting pakeha.

So I don't want to talk as if I know anything about having people you love in prison - because twenty-five days is nothing - people are on bail for months and are sentenced to years in prison. There are families and communities, poor and non-white families and communities, where people in prison isn't a horror or an aberration, but a fact of life.

I kept coming back to how much I had, when working to support people in prison. Most important was that there were heaps of us doing this together. I was in a good position for other reasons I had a car, I didn't have a job, I didn't have a child, English is my first language. While I love my friends who were arrested, their disappearance did not change the fabric of my life. I wasn't trying to live without their income, or what they did around the house.

Despite all this trying to support people in prison took everything I was able to give. Even prison visiting - which was the high point of my weeks - is work, doubly so if done with a two year old. The work of having people in prisons, and keeping families and communities functioning while they're away, is done by women. Female visitors outnumbered male visitors three or four to one. It was mothers, sisters, daughters, girlfriends and friends who were there, with or without kids, to do what needed to be done.

I'm not pointing out anything new when I say this makes prisons a feminist issue. The invisible work women do is even further from the public eye when it is to serve an institution designed to hide and conceal.

There are different ways of knowing. I've believed in prison abolition for years, but I believed it different on Tuesday 16 October when I stood outside barbed wire fences and thought about people on the other side. And I knew that prisons were a feminist issue when I changed a nappy at the entranceway to a prison visitors centre.

* I have a car, and in a crisis situation I like nothing better than I really long to-do list, so I'd gotten myself approved first.

** That's the guard's job

*** A visit that never happened - but the way the corrections department at times seems deliberately set up to make your life worse is a topic for another post.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Ha Ha

I've always said the best bit of any election is the assholes losing their jobs. I can't imagine any victory as sweet as John Howard losing his seat. It isn't confirmed, but his opponent has been ahead all night.

When the sun rises in Australia tomorrow, or a year from now,* It will be the same racist, capialist, misogynist country - run for many and not the few.

But can Winston losing his seat be our election present?

* I shouldn't rule out the possibility of radical social and political change in Australia in the next 12 months - but it seems unlikely enough

Friday, November 23, 2007

One down 10,499 to go...

At least according to Wikipedia.

Clint Rickards is a despicable man, but he is not the problem with the New Zealand police force. When you give people the power he had, some do abuse it, and the consequences of that abuse are devastating.

But what the police do in the course of their duties is almost as bad. It's not just the abusing of police power that we have to be afraid of, but the using of it. Last month's raids are a vivid example of the way police treat those they define as criminals, particularly poor and Maori or Pacific Island, but just a vivid example.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

An introduction

I'm cross posting an update I wrote for Alas, a blog I write for with a largely American audience. I thought I'd post it here for people who read this blog from elsewhere

On October 15 the police raided over 60 houses throughout New Zealand. They arrested 16 people on jointly possessing a number of firearms, and one person on drugs charges. From the very first day the police were talking about charges under the Terrorism Suppression Act.

The raids were brutal, a 12 year old girl had a gun pointed at her head, and when her grandmother tried to comfort her (you can view the 12 year old's comments here. In Ruatoki, a they put a roadblock on the line where the land had been confiscated so many years ago, and anyone who went in and out had to have their photo taken by their car. When one house was raided, the children were locked in a shed for hours by the police while the search was being carried.

Four people were arrested in Wellington; three of those were friends of mine - people I loved. They didn't get bail; they went into the prison industrial complex. Suddenly prisons stopped being an abstract concept to me, and became a reality that I attempted to navigate while trying to visit the prisoners and get them books and money.

But we didn't, couldn't, just do prisoner support, we also needed to stand in solidarity of people who had been attacked, particularly Tūhoe, the iwi that had been targeted in these raids. The four weeks that followed was prisons and driving and meetings and court and protests and meetings and supporting each other and meetings and prisons and court and driving and hugs and tears and and anger and love.

At 4pm, Thursday 8 November almost four weeks after people had been arrested, the Solicitor General announced that no-one would be charged under the terrorism suppression act (these were the first charges ever attempted by the police under the Terrorism Suppression Act). The following day all my friends got bail, and all 16 defendents are now free

I don't think I could describe the sustained joy that started at 4.01 and continued for a week. They were released eleven days ago and I'm smiling right now, because they're out and I can see them whenever I want.

It's joy and a respite, but we've got so much work to do. All 16 are still facing charges under the Arms Act. The Terrorism Suppression Act - which allowed extensive bugging, has just been strengthened. While our friends are out of prisons, those vile instituations still stand, with far too many trapped inside. I still live in a colonised country, where demands for Tino Rangatiratanga and Mana Motuhake are ignored.

I couldn't write much. I was in too much of a whirlwind to know what to say. I'm looking forward to writing more regularly, but what's happened over the last 6 weeks has affected me, and will affect what I write.

I've been promising to write more about feminism in prisons for a while now. While my analysis hasn't changed much, your understanding changes as issues stop being abstract and distanced and become part of your reality, and the reality of those you love. So I imagine those posts will take a slightly different form than they might have two months ago, but will probably be stronger because of it. Most importantly, in the next few days (or weeks) I hope to write an introductory post that'll cover some of the very basic history of colonialism in NZ, and Maori resistance, that I can use a reference point if I want to write more on Alas. I've generally avoided cross-posting what little I do write on Alas, but I think writing about colonialism where I live has resonances beyond, so that I should do the background work to make what I write intelligible.

I can answer questions if people have any, it can be hard to write about what's going on here for another audience, but I think it's worth doing.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Media that don't suck (or suck less than normal)

There was a very good interview with Tuhoe Lambert on 60 Minutes tonight. You can see at least part of that interview here. He was incredibly staunch - particularly when talking about Te Mana Motuhake ō Tūhoe.

The other poweful part of the segment is that detailed the reality of the way people were treated during the raids. What happened to Tuhoe Lambert's whanua is not the worst story I have heard, but it disgusts me and fills me with rage. In a time of small mercies, one of the things that I am incredibly greatful for is that none of the people who were arrested by the armed offenders squad in Wellington were living with children. But in Maori dominated communites the police spread the net much further, so many many children were caught and had guns placed at their heads.

I also can't recommend Radio New Zealand's Te Ahi Kaa enough - although I've only just started to listen to them. There are so many Pakeha voices out there about this, and what Pakeha (including, or especially, me) need to is listen. Te Ahi Kaa is a great place to start

Monday, November 12, 2007


The Dominion Post published articles based on the affadavit the police used to get the search warrant for the October 15 raids.

If the Dominion Post was actually interested in a debate over whether or not the raids were justified on the basis of the evidence they could have published the entire affadavit on Stuff. The fact that they did not do this, instead found some cherry-picked pull quotes, demonstrates that they're not actually interested in informed debate, but selling newspapers.

I'm well aware that I don't have any right to object to others publishing information that may prejudice a defendents right to a fair trial.

But what I do object to is that the information presented to gain a search warrants is referred to as 'the evidence' - and there's an argument that there's some overwhelming right to know it. The police have stolen bits of my friends, and many others, for over a year.* They arranged what they'd taken and gave it to the Manakau District Court. The Dominion Post then took what they'd arranged and rearranged it and put it on the front page of the paper.

The entire debate over these documents, is based on the idea that they are 'the evidence' about what happened in the Urewera. I reject that idea, and not just because I know the people. I think there are far more important, accurate and revealing sources about the defendents and their actions (even Jamie Lockett) than what the police have stolen from them. The powerful tell stories about the powerless all the time - a basic part of trying to create a better world is ignoring those stories in favour of the stories the powerless tell about themselves.

* Just for the record I have no idea if any of the quotes the Dominion Post highlighted came from anyone I know.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Another day supporting terorrists

On Monday 15 October I sat in court and heard that my friends were being remanded with consent for days. I was appalled and distraught that they were going to be in jail for that long.

Today has been one of the best days I've had since that Monday, simply because I got to see Val, Em & a 23 year old musician.* In court today we got to show them we love them, we got to be solid with them. Now when someone asks you how you are it isn't to be compared with what life had been, but with our reality now. Seeing them is an automatic ten on my new scale.

PS In other news, I thought the only things that could make me happy involved the words 'bail'. But Joss Whedon having a new TV show comes pretty damn close.

* I sound just like the media, although hopefully not for long. One journalist said "he doesn't look like a terrorist" when my name-suppressed friend entered the dock. She wasn't the first person to say that. Maybe he'll run that as his defence 'I'm white, everyone knows I can't be a terrorist.'